As I sit here gloomily contemplating another Dry January and wondering what lexicon of joys 2017 will foist upon the world, it is impossible not to reflect on 2016. It really was the Devil’s arsehole of a year: angry, grizzly, unsightly and with an extraordinarily proficient propensity to evacuate its bowel over so many citizens of the world (or citizens of nowhere if you’re Theresa May). My gloom however is punctuated by the optimistic truth that 2016 has now been consigned to the macerator of history, never to return. It is perhaps likely to be referenced (depending on one’s perspective) as a wretched historical marker of some consequence. And it may always haunt and shape future events with its acrid stench of regression and uncertainty, but it’s over and we should all be grateful for that. 2017 has to be better, surely? It’s a low base of expectation from which to start.
In such a traumatic year of tectonic socio-political upheaval and human misery, it is impossible to summarise a podium of 2016’s lowlights but below is my roll call of events (in no particular order of gravitas) that have contributed so wholeheartedly to this year of angst.
- Bloody Brexit. Ah yes, the cockroach that won’t die; the fart that lingers in the lift and stings the nostrils; the UK’s answer to social haemorrhagic fever on a pandemic scale. The biggest and unprecedented clusterfuck of matters constitutional, parliamentary, judicial and of national identity that anybody has seen in most of our lifetimes. And it’s so noisy. The UK hasn’t stopped shouting for about 18 months if you include Scotland’s IndyRef1. Leavers shouted a carefully choreographed and sustained assault of lies and half-truths, relentlessly pedalling the phenomenon of “post truth” politics where the veracity of what is said has no relevance to the intellectual debate. As long as it preys on the prejudices, fears and resentment of the populist masses, the “truth” then emerges as an incontrovertible and self-evident Medusan construct of anything that the seething, hard done by horde want to believe. It’s intoxicatingly powerful as a political dictum in the modern world. Just ask The Donald- he absolutely nailed it. And Remainers shouted back over the fence with a shambolic and incoherent concoction of lies and half-truths, strategised as Project Fear but executed with the aplomb of pissing in the proverbial wind in the face of the chameleon-like adaptability of the post-truth world. The result? A profoundly polarised country, fractured across all the social divides of sex, age, geography, ethnicity and class and discombobulated by uncertainty. United, it seems, only by noise and discord. Whilst 2016 proved that predictions are entirely futile and that the unexpected is now part of the predictable mainstream, it seems reasonable to surmise that 2017 will see the UK endure the slow and painful torture of the medieval rack as Brexit negotiations are ground out and the pain of the ultimate endgame is gradually drawn and snapped towards its conclusion. A clinical, clean break it will not be. But I doubt if anybody is going to suffer in silence.
One other thought. As the alpha figurehead turkey who voted for Christmas, Nigel Farage should have been gutted, plucked, stuffed with a pleasingly uncomfortable amount of sage and onion thrust up his jacksie and roasted in the oven of political obscurity long before Christmas and yet his nauseatingly jolly-pleased-with-myself demeanour still pollutes our airtime. The British government is never going to outsource its foreign policy to an unelected outsider, self-styled chum of US president-elect or not. So please Nige, do us all a favour and take your noise, chalk stripes and smug self-satisfaction elsewhere. I hear Washington DC’s swamp is nice this time of year, not that anybody there knows who you are.
- Top Trump. If Brexit was the amuse bouche on the menu of political pyrotechnics, then the election of The Donald has to be the Old ‘96er from The Great Outdoors, but with rather more sweating if you’re anybody other than a fully paid up member of the Rustbelt-Midwestern white male ignorati. Writing in The Baltimore Evening Sun on 26 July 1920, H.L Mencken, journalist, satirist and literary anti-hero extraordinaire, wrote that: “As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron”. Hmmm, how prescient. Or is this unfair to The Donald? A penchant for pussy grabbing, sex pestery, megalomania, bigotry, misogyny, Islamophobia, xenophobia, homophobia and any other milk curdling quality you care to name may or may not be fair, but what does this say about a sizeable chunk of the American electorate? Even if he lost the popular vote in the election by a greater margin than any other US president-elect (polling almost 2.9 million fewer votes than Clinton), and however much he is reviled the world over, it does not sit comfortably to criticise the political intelligence of a man who located, massaged and ultimately called-to-arms the inner soul of 46.1% of the “plain folks” that voted for him. To write him off as a moron is, perhaps, to make the same mistake as Clinton when she fatally described half of Trump supporters as a “basket of deplorables.” In Electoral College terms, the Disunited States of Dumbfuckistan is a sea of seething, fist pumping red, stretching from Idaho in the North West to Florida in the South East, flanked only by corridors of equally irate enlightenment on the Western Seaboard and the North East. Whatever the vagaries of an Electoral College system that has spat out only the fifth US president in history to have been elected despite losing the popular vote, suck it up ‘Merica because that’s the imperfection of a democracy that your hailed forefathers perfected. Democracy is after all, as that insightful chap Mencken also remarked, only the “pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance”. So for anybody in America who laments that the interview for the highest and most important office in the world has been won by someone whose barnet is a cross between a Peruvian Long Haired guinea pig and Dougal from the Magic Roundabout, do not despair. Democracy and the collective wisdom can take its revenge at the ballot box in 2020. Bon chance cousins.
- Aleppo, the shame of the West. After four brutal years of indescribable human suffering and geopolitical chess playing, the battle for Aleppo is finally over. The weeping sore of the Western conscience and total failure of its diplomacy and theory of liberal intervention, now quietly drips its pus over the razed rubble. Haunted by the spectres of the legacies left by the clumsy interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, the West stood by like one o’clock half struck and turned their backs: the UK voted against any form of military action and Europe erected barbed wire barriers to keep out the swell of Syrian refugees. Obama fiddled and Aleppo burned, drawing a political line over the use of chemical weapons that was supposed to be the inviolable point of no return. Assad then pissed all over that line with a liberal sprinkling of chlorine gas and Obama retreated to the shadows, contemplating a failed foreign policy that has abandoned the US’s status as the global guardian of once fiercely protected Western values in favour of international collective responsibility. History should judge him poorly for this abject abrogation of responsibility to assert moral and political leadership. Meanwhile Vlad did what a rapidly deteriorating domestic and economic picture demanded: he poked the bear’s cage and picked a fight outside his borders, rapidly filling the vacuum left by US retrenchment and the West’s impotence in the region. Values matter. Without values and the gumption to defend them, Western words are merely empty platitudes; opening the door for the likes of Russia and Iran to step into the void and exert influence where it is not wanted. Putin has won. With Aleppo abandoned with such consummate ease by the West, what odds on Putin rattling his sabre at the trio of tasty treats that are the Balkans as a direct challenge to Trump’s antithesis of liberal intervention?
- Dearly Departed. If the socio-political cataclysms and mass human suffering wasn’t enough, the number of deaths, often tragically early, of titans of acting, music, sport, media and popular culture is the cherry on the most rotten of cakes.And with the commercial cynicism of manufactured music “artists” with their vote-winning life stories and their inability to even spell guitar let alone play one, the moronic grinning and cretinous inanity of ITV’s poster children Ant & Dec and the vomit-in-mouth inducing spectacle of Gregg “all I want is more of my pawk [sic.] to dip in to your luuuuvely sauss [sic.]” Wallace trespassing into our living rooms on a seemingly nightly basis, such human losses are felt all the more keenly.
David Bowie; Sir Terry Wogan; Victoria Wood; Alan Rickman; Paul Daniels; Denise Robertson, David Gest; Tony Warren; Ronnie Corbett; Frank Kelly; Prince; Carla Lane; Muhammad Ali; Caroline Aherne; Ron Glass; Kenny Baker; Gene Wilder; Sir George Martin; Jean Alexander; Florence Henderson; Robert Vaughn; Andrew Sachs; Peter Vaughan; Greg Lake; Leonard Cohen; A.A Gill; Ian McCaskill; Zsa Zsa Gabor; Rick Parfitt; George Michael; Carrie Fisher; Debbie Reynolds; Carlos Alberto; Anthony Foley; Tony Mottram; Dicky Jeeps; Arnold Palmer; Hanif Mohammad; Christy O’Connor Snr; Christy O’Connor Jnr; Tony Cozier; Johan Cruyff; Jack Bannister; Walter Swinburn, to name but a few.
Many will stand the test of time as icons of their trade; all were characters to inspire and enrich our cultural fabric. The world is darker and emptier for their passing. R.I.P.
Happy new year folks.